The London East Asia Film Festival gives us the second chance this year to see Comrade Kim Goes Flying in the company of two of its directors, Nicholas Bonner and Anja Daelemans. The screening in March was in fact the UK premiere, which came almost six years after its international premiere in Toronto in early September 2012.
Comrade Kim is a fun, feel-good movie about following your dreams. Made entirely in North Korea under the Kim Jong Il regime, the movie had its North Korean premiere at the Pyongyang International Film Festival in late September 2012 under his son Kim Jong Un. It was screened at the Busan International Film Festival later that year, and said to be the first North Korean film to be presented there. It is also said to be the first first North Korean film made purely for entertainment purposes, with no ideological message, no episode in which guidance from the Leader provides the resolution of the crisis. Having said that, if I remember correctly, it is Comrade Kim’s memory of her ideological training that gives her the final push that enables her to achieve her goal: a particularly tricky aerial manoeuvre in her trapeze act.
The storyline follows the life of the exemplary coal miner, the young Kim Yong-mi, charmingly played by Han Jong Sim, as she dreams of becoming a trapeze artist after idolising the stars of the state circus. There is a gentle humour, some slick acrobatic set pieces, a vibrant colour palette and a chaste atmosphere that somehow makes you think of Bollywood film.
Some of the humour may be lost on a non-DPRK audience, for example underlying tensions between the lofty Pyongyang inhabitants who look down on the lowly miners from out in the provinces: “do you think you can just crawl out of the ground and fly like us?” Kim is asked in a withering put-down by star acrobat Pak Jang Phil (played by Pak Chung Guk, who like his co-star was a real-life acrobat from the Pyongyang Circus). But other elements, such as the will-they-won’t-they love story between Kim and Pak, are universally appealing, and this a movie that can and should be enjoyed by anyone. Don’t miss the chance to catch it for the second time this year. “Whimsy” is not an attribute you would expect to find in a film made in North Korea, but this movie is the exception.
Nicholas Bonner, Anja Daelemans & Kim Gwang Hun (김광훈): Comrade Kim Goes Flying (김동무는 하늘을 난다, 2012)